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Trial Diary - The Jury Breaks the Law

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Trial Diary - The Jury Breaks the Law

Posted by Brian Anderson (owner) on Oct 02 2012
Trial Diary - The Jury Breaks the Law >>

Last week we went to trial and spent the better part of two days showing a jury how our client was injured, how he has not fully recovered, and why he deserved to be compensated for his injuries. The jury was attentive and courteous. They were educated and thoughtful. They deliberated for nearly two hours. Then they broke the law.

They didn't realize they broke the law. In fact, I'm pretty sure they will never know they broke the law. They issued their verdict and were dismissed. Then we moved for a mistrial. A few minutes earlier, the jury had issued their verdict as follows:

We, the jury find for (ten-year-old) Plaintiff James O.* in the amount of $2,490 in past medical expenses, $0 in future medical expenses, and $0 in general damages.

Judge: Juror number one, is this the verdict of the jury?
Juror #1: Yes.
Judge: Is this your verdict?
Juror #1: Yes.

Judge: Juror number two, is this the verdict of the jury?
Juror #2: Yes.
Judge: Is this your verdict?
Juror #2: Yes.

And so on, through the sixth juror. They were unanimous in their decision to award nothing for general damages. When they stepped out of the room, we pointed out to the honorable judge that it is contrary to the law and the evidence for the jury to award medical expenses and award nothing in damages.

So, it's not fair to say they broke the law without also saying that they didn't know they were breaking the law. But as any judge will tell you when you say you didn't know you had to use a hands-free device, or whatever the case may be, ignorance of the law is no excuse. In the state of Washington, it is the established law that if a jury awards medical expenses to a plaintiff (i.e., they determined that the defendant was liable for the harm), they must award a reasonable amount of money for general damages, or pain and suffering. The law recognizes that there cannot be medical treatment without some amount of pain, and, like it or not, money is almost always the only remedy for civil harm. A verdict of zero damages is treated as a result of evidence of "passion or prejudice".

Thankfully, the judge and the defendant's attorney agreed that either a mistrial should be granted or the verdict should be increased. We stepped outside with the defendant's attorney and came back with a reasonable amount for general damages, avoiding a new trial. And the jury didn't even get a ticket.

 

*Name has been changed for privacy.
 

 

Last changed: Oct 02 2012 at 3:53 PM

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Comments

Jury system is broken By Guest on Oct 02 2012 at 12:01 PM
I've long felt that a jury of my peers is a bad idea with our complicated law. A jury of judges, maybe. But this is further proof that jury verdicts can be egregious.

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